by Ben Farthing
The advent of teleportation, that seminal transformation from an internet of things into an internet of places, also made pet adoption easy as shit. Hop over to a FentCorp teleporter, look up your destination, then zap your molecules across the galaxy to pick up that cute stray you saw on Facebook.
Which every impressionable idiot had done right before Nozario got in line at the dwarf planet now called Paws 4 Luv Cat Rescue.
The sickeningly quaint glass walls did nothing to help his claustrophobia. Neither did the unfamiliar stars beyond. Day would come around in a few minutes, but Nozario doubted that would help either.
The eager crowd swarmed around him like fleas. They wedged Nozario in between the teleportation station and the welcome counter, behind which were five desks where adoption agents helped guests pick out a new feline family member.
Nozario checked his watch. Neuterings probably happened every day, so he was running out of time to save Calvin’s balls.
He pushed past a young couple and a nervous teen to reach the welcome counter, manned by a woman who’d probably been around when the dwarf planet was designated a life-supporting, nonprofit landmass and claimed by Paws 4 Luv.
Her nametag read “Pamela Womphaven.” Nozario recognized the last name, but couldn’t place it.
Pamela inspected him over her glasses. “Sir, the line starts back there.”
“I’m not here to adopt a cat.”
“Then you’re in the wrong place.”
“I mean I’m not here for any old cat. My housekeeper was supposed to bring you a stray that had been wandering around my yard. She brought you my cat, Calvin, instead. He’s very valuable.”
“Every cat is valuable to their family.”
“Four thousand dollars’ worth? Because Calvin is.” Nozario looked around at the people staring at him and lowered his voice. “He’s an uncommon breed.”
Pamela sniffed. “Purebred?”
Nozario nodded, avoiding eye contact with all the hippies adopting cats. It wasn’t his responsibility to make sure every stray cat had a home.
“Which sector did you tele in from?”
“Anandar,” he answered quietly. The only sector where pet breeders weren’t required to be nonprofits.
“And Calvin was to be a stud?”
Nozario looked the woman in the eyes. “Don’t judge me. I work from home. Calvin gets more attention than these idiots could ever give. So what if I start bringing him ladyfriends a few times a month? Anandar rent is four times anything around here.”
“You haven’t yet started him as a stud, though.” It wasn’t a question.
“No, but when I do, it’s perfectly legal in Anandar. So give me back my cat.”
“I’m afraid all donations and surrenders are final. The legal code is quite clear that donations of property are irrefundable.”
Nozario knew the law. Asking nicely had been a long shot.
“If you’d like to adopt a new family member, speak to one of our family consultants and they’ll find you a match. I know of an affectionate Manx who’d love to sit in your lap while you work. But first you’ll have to jump in the back of the line.”
Nozario didn’t want an affectionate Manx. He enjoyed the pleasant surprise when Calvin rubbed against his ankles, or when he woke up and Calvin was curled up on his feet. If you didn’t have to earn your cat’s love, what was the point?
He pushed back through the crowd.
The nervous young woman who’d been next in line grabbed his shoulder and leaned in to whisper, “Why don’t you build a profile that will match you with your cat?”
“Don’t think it’ll work,” Nozario grimaced and kept walking. Even if he could somehow pair his personality to a single cat out of the twenty thousand rescued by Paws 4 Luv, they’d have already neutered any cat getting adopted. Like snipping off a cat’s balls was so much more humane than letting them fuck.
Nozario went back to the teleportation station. Six sliding steel doors lined the far wall, the only opaqueness on the glass structure. The doors opened and closed as adopters came and went from terameters across the galaxy.
He pressed the “Depart” button, waited for a teleporter to ding and open, and then stepped inside. The doors closed behind him.
A jingle about burgers invited him to tele over to McDonald’s. The screen suggested he navigate through shopping categories to select his destination.
Nozario tuned out FentCorp’s attempts at brainwashing. He’d get a burger once he could share it with Calvin.
He pulled a collapsible cat carrier from his jacket and let it expand. He removed the trickier aspect of his plan from a secret pocket in his boot: a counterfeit Paws 4 Luv teleporter key.
Nozario had patched it together and copypasted in haphazard code from previous burglary contracts. If he had a few days, he’d write a program to lock down the teleporters while he took his time finding Calvin. But since Calvin had been donated unexpectedly, and Nozario figured they wouldn’t wait long to neuter him, he’d thrown together what he could and rushed to the nearest teleporter.
The screen replaced the McDonald’s ad with one for a burrito joint. Nozario swiped it away, tapped “Custom Destination,” and then inserted the key.
The screen added an option: “Paws 4 Luv Local.” Nozario selected it. A list of choices appeared, more than he’d expected for a tiny planet entirely devoted to housing rescue cats. On the other hand, if they wanted to find specific cats, they’d need to divide it precisely.
He skimmed the list. There were even ads here, for the Starbucks on the observation deck.
Before he could select “Spay & Neuter,” he noticed “Studs & Queens.” Those were breeder terms. Rescue freaks hated those words.
Calvin, for all his clumsiness, was a regal-looking Bengal, with a perfect pattern of stripes and spots. Nozario selected the controversial words.
The teleporter hit him with the familiar feeling of déjà vu about déjà vu, and then the doors dinged open to a carpeted hallway.
Nozario stuck the key in his pocket, picked up the carrier, and acted like he belonged. He strode to a glass door, didn’t spot any locks, and pushed it open.
It was cat heaven. Shag carpet lined the floor and walls. Cats played with bells, string toys, and plastic balls strewn out across the floor. Others soaked up the rays of sunlamps while sleeping on foam beds. The shyer cats rested in deep cubbies, or played in walled-off sections private enough to be alone, but accessible by a quick jump.
Nozario laughed. “These hypocritical pricks. Their own breeding stock, living perfectly happy.”
He looked around for Calvin. Most of the Bengals played in an artificial stream. Calvin wasn’t among them.
It took Nozario way too long to notice these cats lacked testicles, then less time to notice that the door he’d entered was labeled “Queens,” and if he took the hallway the other direction from the teleporter, there was a door labeled “Studs.”
Nozario went through it.
A concussive odor of cat piss reminded him that Calvin didn’t spray like most tomcats.
His next thought was that if the queens’ room was cat heaven, then the studs’ was the version of purgatory where you spent eternity meeting your new girlfriend’s male friends, sizing up whether you were better looking, made more money, and if you could take them when it inevitably came to blows.
The studs were kept apart from each other. Glass walls separated each enclosure from the central hallway.
Each had food, water, a couple toys, and carpeted shelves to scratch, hide, and climb. Most cells housed only a single cat.
A Maine coon and a ragdoll paced their cages, cheek-to-cheek. Growling and spitting said that only the glass kept them from killing each other. Past them, another Maine coon stalked a hairless sphinx that cowered behind a scratching post.
In another enclosure, two cats calmly cuddled up. They looked as happy as anyone could, trapped in a two-by-three-meter cage, surrounded by testosterone and piss.
Nozario found Calvin in the last enclosure. He sat on top of the scratching post, eyes closed but ears perked. Nozario whispered his name.
Calvin opened his eyes, all black with dilated pupils. He saw Nozario and his pupils shrank. The tightness in his stance eased. Nozario beamed with affection. “I’ll get you out of there, buddy.”
Easier done than said, as the doors didn’t need locks. Nozario scratched behind Calvin’s ears. They’d left his collar on, including the tag with the engraved words “Hacking Buddy.”
Calvin raised his chin for his neck to be scratched. Nozario obliged.
“You’re gonna hate me, but you gotta get in the carrier.” Nozario lifted it. Calvin recognized the torture device and backed up, into Nozario’s waiting hand. Nozario brought the cloth carrier down on Calvin like a net and zipped him up inside.
Calvin’s familiar shifting weight released Nozario’s worry.
His hacking buddy was okay. Testicles still intact, too, although Nozario found himself less concerned about potential stud fees.
He turned around to find Pamela Womphaven outside the glass. He remembered why he recognized her name. The goddamn trustfund kid who’d blown her money creating Paws 4 Luv. “You really know how to sneak up on a guy.”
“You’re adept at sneaking, yourself.”
“Yeah, well, Calvin and I are wrapping up our tour of what shitty lives your studs have, so we’ll be going now.” He tried to open the glass door but she wouldn’t move. “Come on. I’m trying not to hurt you.”
“I’ve deactivated the local teleporters. At least until you return my Bengal stud.”
“Then it looks like we’ll be waiting here for a long while. I expect I’ll outlast you. I’m eighty-nine — I’ve learned a thing or two about patience.”
Nozario pushed the door slowly, forcing Pamela back. “How about you learn not to steal people’s legal property, or whatever you called Calvin earlier.”
“The law is on my side.”
“Is it? Because it looks to me like we’re standing in a feline breeding facility. The kind that’s only legal in Anandar. Which is how many thousand terameters away?”
“You’re forgetting that Paws 4 Luv is a nonprofit. We’re permitted to breed purebreds.”
“But not to make a profit. And what kind of idiot would waste money on purebreds who wasn’t trying to make money?”
“The kind who cares about the continuation of the breed. That Bengal you’re stealing comes from a breed that’s been around nine hundred years, and that’s the youngest breed in this room. Preserving history isn’t just about paintings and old buildings.”
Nozario walked to the teleporter. He jabbed the “Depart” button but nothing happened.
“I wasn’t bluffing,” said Pamela.
“Of course not,” said Nozario. “I expect a pet rescue to be completely honest. So much so, that if I discovered you weren’t honest, say, about something like the evils of breeding, I wouldn’t trust any of your offered services.”
“You’re threatening to go public? With what evidence?”
She might not have been bluffing, but Nozario could. “I’ve got an eyecam on right now. It syncs with a dozen different clouds.”
That made her stop and think, which Nozario didn’t want her doing uninterrupted.
“And what happens once the number one video tonight is how Paws 4 Luv is secretly an evil kitten mill?”
“We treat our queens and studs like royalty.”
Nozario looked around at the imprisoned studs. “Not how viewers will see it. I think you’ll get fewer surrenders, and a hell of a lot fewer adopters.”
“No other rescue comes close to us in reputation or size. We’re a whole planet!”
“A dwarf planet,” Nozario scoffed. He patted the teleporter doors. “But fine. You can lose half your rescue clients and survive. What happens to your purebred business when you lose secrecy?”
Pamela inhaled, held it, exhaled. Probably counting to ten. “We’re talking about a stud that’s worth no more than three thousand dollars.”
“Four thousand,” said Nozario.
“You’ve already surrendered him. This isn’t a negotiation.”
“Nope. It’s blackmail. Turn the teleporter back on. How much do you make from your kitten mill? People are ashamed enough already to own purebreds. Imagine if your clientele’s teleporter history contained the infamous Paws 4 Luv kitten mill. Pretty obvious what they came here for. People rich enough to buy purebreds can’t afford that hit to their reputation.”
The woman’s posture changed to resignation. “How do I know you won’t post it anyways?”
“Did I say I give a shit about breeding?” He lifted Calvin’s carrier.
She peered inside and pressed her finger through the metal grate. “You’ve got such a beautiful pattern.”
Calvin rubbed his cheek against her nail.
Nozario pulled him away. “Come on, show some solidarity.”
Pamela gave up. While she reactivated the teleporter, Nozario raised Calvin’s carrier to eye level. His cat avoided eye contact, but meowed.
“You’re welcome,” said Nozario.
The teleporter doors opened. Nozario stepped inside.
As he navigated the screen through ads to bring up an Anandar destination, Pamela stuck her foot in the door to stop it from closing.
“You’ll still breed him, won’t you? His pattern is too beautiful not to pass on.”
Nozario selected his destination. He pushed her foot away. “I don’t think so. Breeders are dicks.”
About the Creator
Ben donated his story this month. Visit his website, shoot him a thank-you note, and maybe buy one of his books!
Ben Farthing writes supernatural horror and dark fantasy thrillers. And sometimes sci-fi stories about his cat, Calvin, who he'd planned on breeding until he realized that most breeders are dicks.
Ben, if you had a hammer, would you hammer in the morning, and all goddamned day, or just idly as a novelty? What would you hammer?
It's comfortingly poignant that you would ask this, as my first published story, over ten years ago now, was called "How to Use a Hammer." I also recently rescued a broken hammer from the trash can. My wife had tossed it out because it was snapped in two. But my oldest son--now nearing 3--carried that hammer with him everywhere as soon as he learned to walk. "Hammer" was his third word, after "outside" and "garage" (where my woodshop resides). I couldn't stand to part with the broken hammer because it's a physical relic of that amazing time of growth in my son's life. See, my grandfather recently passed, and I inherited his tools, which he inherited from his father, who was a carpenter. So there was a reassuring symmetry to coming into ownership of the hammers that my great-grandfather used to support his family, around the same time that my son was discovering his own love for hammers. It felt like I was experiencing the opposite of existential dread. If my son has inherited something from a great-grandfather whom I never met, then death becomes somehow just a bit less terrifying.
A held-in fart.
It's gotta make some noise inside you, right? I bet it's hilarious.
Ben's Dear Aunty Stanky question can be read here.
About the Artist
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and you can get a free demo of his janky retro JRPG, which was formerly on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.
Bengal cat image by Yuyumin, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Minor changes were made to the original.